Miles Jupp: Songs Of Freedom | Gig review by Steve Bennett at Kenton Theatre, Henley

Miles Jupp: Songs Of Freedom

Note: This review is from 2016

Gig review by Steve Bennett at Kenton Theatre, Henley

Miles Jupp is in his spiritual home in the rarefied enclave of Henley-on-Thames. Bedecked in red trousers, he’s the epitome of mannered Middle England: polite to the point of handicap, awkwardly repressed, but occasionally filled with indignant rage at the trivial.

He’s the first to admit that his – indeed everyone’s – anger is disproportionate to the size of the problem. Genocide in a foreign land gets a mild tut; beverages served in a jam jar, a force 10 rage. ‘Of course it’s first world problems,’ he splutters. ‘That’s where I live.’

However, it’s not the misplaced rage that afflicts Songs Of Freedom – amusingly advertised as if it were a 1970s LP with a civil rights message – but the mild meanderings between such heartfelt outbursts. Especially in the underpowered first half, which leans heavily on his bumbling, mild-mannered persona, making much of him looking forward to a nice hot bath at the end of the gig… which has the effect of making the audience think he doesn’t really want to be here.

There’s a similar lack of conviction in other sections, such as his protests about being mistaken for a trainspotter – but we are never made to share his indignity. Having to explain that he’s a minor celebrity, though, that seems more real. Even though he’s been on Pointless Celebrities (‘an appalling experience’) and Celebrity Mastermind, taking home the acrylic trophy in the process.

But Jupp builds. The first section ends with an overdue flourish, and the second is a league ahead. For when he savages poor form, it’s brutal: taking down the miserable experience of shopping in WH Smith’s in a withering aside, getting his teeth into the unpalatable realities of train food, or eviscerating Duchy Originals, not just for being overpriced biscuits, but wrapping in all Prince Charles’s wealth and privilege into his diatribe.

The republican message is a rare political point. Jupp has previously displayed a glint of socialist steel, but rarely here. The best you’ll get is a routine about the gentrification of his former corner of London, leading him and his family to flee to South Wales. Clearly, encroaching hipsters have displaced the honest, salt-of-the-earth working class types like the privately-educated presenter of Radio 4 topical quiz shows. That’s just one of his jobs, of course, he’s also reviewed restaurants for the London Evening Standard – although as in one wry anecdote he reveals why his couldn’t hang on to that particular journalistic assignment.

The artisan bread and organic butter of his show are the domestic incidents that define his life: such as his wife’s esoteric filing system for household objects or the surrender to nagging children. Such routines are identifiable, real and entertainingly played out, as are the shudders of self-awareness he gets when he notes his five mini-mes picking up his fogeyish ways. For Jupp is 37 going on 67: if comedy weren't his outlet he’d surely be writing stiff letters to an editor somewhere.

The obsession with pushing things through to the bitter end sometimes plays dividends: a routine about the small-talk his out-of-work actor friend has to make at dinner parties starts slow but evolves into a silly bit of surrealism as the thespian invents a more glamorous job for himself.

Whatever the flaws in a sometimes low-passion performance. even Jupp’s harshest critic – a punter at a gig in Suffolk, as it happens – would acknowledge that he’s a thoroughly good egg. But his affable, clubbable nature would allow him to get away with more: just witness the way he drops the C-bomb with aplomb. But just the once, mind, he’s not a ruddy savage.

For when his exasperated rage – at targets deserving or not – breaks through the crippling politeness, Jupp really shines.

Review date: 24 Sep 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Henley-on-Thames Kenton Theatre

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